A mother hovers over her young son climbing on monkey bars. A thirteen year-old girl’s parents won’t let her walk alone to the school bus stop two blocks away. Another parent decides what her children wear to school each day. Parents of course have the job of protecting their kids, but the question is how much should they protect. Should parents always step in when the homework is rough? Should parents call another child’s parent when their son or daughter is having a conflict with that child? Keeping children in a hothouse for all of childhood, not allowing them to venture out on their own and face challenges, stunts emotional growth.
This week’s Torah portion begins the fourth book of the Bible, Bamidbar. While the English name for the book is Numbers, the Hebrew name is translated as “wilderness”. The children of Israel wander around the wilderness for 40 years, a journey to the promised land which should have taken them several weeks. But the children of Israel had been slaves for 400 years, and they needed to grow out of their slave consciousness in order to have the maturity to create an ethical society in the land of Canaan. They needed to face the obstacles and challenges of the desert. At times they had no food or water. They lost confidence in their leader. They faced battles. They didn’t believe they would survive in the promised land. They were terrified. They often yearned to go back to Egypt where they had the security of knowing what came next. But before they were ready to fulfill their dreams, they needed to face themselves in the wilderness and grow up as a people.
Parents too need to let their children face themselves. We are not responsible to fill up every minute of our child’s day. At times they should be left alone to fend for themselves. We can help, but in the end we need to make clear that children can and should make decisions about how to spend their free time. We can talk to them about conflicts at school and friends, but unless the situation is dangerous or abusive, it’s optimal if we let them figure out how to respond to their issues. Of course we should listen and encourage. But for the sake of their own development, we need to let them venture out on their own, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding.
TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what they are ready to do more independently.
CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:
- What do you think you can do for yourself and when do you need a parent’s help?
- How have you dealt with obstacles or failures in the past? What might help you in the future?
- What makes you feel stronger inside?
By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses
Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.